Applied Theology: Love and Relationships

The ancient Greeks had the understanding that love and relationships are strongly associated with each other, but I have to wonder whether or not they understood that love and relationships have rather different natures. 

They had several words that we translate into English as love.  Philia (or philos) indicated the expression of love between friends and family members that was virtuous (according to Aristotle).  Eros indicated the expression of love as a deep and passionate longing for a person (or possibly an abstraction of them), a love greater than that of philia, often associated with dating or marriage.  These are just a couple of examples, and you’ll note that both of these understandings are bound up with notions of relationship.

In the writings of early Christianity, another Greek word for love was used: agápē.  As a result, this word became associated with the love that God has for us, an unconditional and volitional act of giving of one’s self that respects the free will of the beloved.  But many Christians struggle with the idea that a God who loves us in this unconditional and self-sacrificing way could ever allow us to go to hell, which is currently understood by the largest Christian sect (the Catholic Church) as total separation from God and those in communion with God, and it may or may not be a physical location as well as a state of being.

I contend that the existence of hell and the residence of persons in that state do not in any way violate the truth of God’s unconditional love for us for a very simple reason.  Love is unconditional and cannot be lost, but relationships are always conditional and can be lost.  For example, if my brother attacks me and steals from me, I will still love him, but our relationship would be violated and it would take time and effort to come to reconciliation and renew that relationship.  I still love my ex-girlfriend, but that does not mean the relationship we previously had must continue to exist after she chose to end it. 

These human relationships have the same quality that relationships with the divine have; they can be ended when one party violates the conditions of that particular type of relationship.  If a condition of our relationship with God is that we talk to Him every day, then failing to talk to Him would cause harm to that relationship.  Just as in human relationships, if we frequently violate the conditions of our relationship with a divine person, then it is understandable that the person would realize that we did not wish to maintain that relationship, that we had chosen to end it. 

It is not that God does not love us or even necessarily that we do not love Him, but that we choose not to be in relationship with Him.  And I certainly cannot blame God for respecting a person’s choice to separate themselves from Him by allowing them to exist in hell, a state of total separation from him, any more than I could blame a person for respecting their significant other’s decision to end a romantic relationship.

Love does not force itself onto others, it simply gives them every opportunity to come into its welcoming arms.

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6 Responses to Applied Theology: Love and Relationships

  1. In the heated evolution vs. creation debate, the creation side regularly accuses those who believe in evolution guilty of making it into a religion.  As your posting here states in a much more elegant way than I ever could, I believe the current adulation of science goes beyond just that debate and is raising science in general to religion level.  I’ve seen so many that claim science is the answer who really don’t know much about science…it’s just who (or what) they’ve chosen to follow.  They blindly accept what the scientists say–or worse, what science advocates say, who likewise don’t know as much about science as they let on–just as they accuse people of religion blindly accepting what their religious leaders and traditions tell them.

  2. random visit but I really liked this entry! I’ve always wondered about this & you’ve given me a new perspective, thanks.

  3. I really enjoyed reading your take on this. I’ve been recently pondering this myself (the whole relationship with God). Now I have more to ponder because of your input…thanks! 

  4. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @bananaleaf_soapbox – You’re very right that there are plenty of folks who’ll hold up science the standard for truth without any deep investigation into it.  Good point.But were you intending to make the comment on my Replacing Religion post rather than this one on Love and Relationships?  I just ask because it seems a little out of place on this one.

  5. Nous_Apeiron says:

    @Christian_and_Proud – You’re very welcome.  I’m glad I could help. πŸ™‚@Girl_Without_Pity – More to ponder is awesome.  Will you let me know the results of the pondering?  I’d be interested to hear your conclusions. πŸ™‚

  6. Very, very intriguing argument. I don’t believe in God, but this is one of the best arguments for what I consider to be one of the greatest flaws in teachings concerning God.I think I’m going to go read more of your posts.

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